Hedgehog or Fox?

By: Chris Naylor

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins asks, “Are you a hedgehog or a fox?”

The Hedgehog Concept originated from a line of the Greek poet Archilochus, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows ONE BIG THING.”

As the story goes, the cunning fox spends hours strategizing the perfect attack on how to eat the hedgehog.  He continually tries and fails, as the hedgehog simply rolls into a shiny, spiny ball with each attack.

After days of the fox’s attacks, the hedgehog’s laser focus on one simple method of defense keeps it alive.

Two Kinds of People

Inspired by the idea in Archilochus’ poem, British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, wrote a brilliant essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.”

According to Berlin, people are divided into two groups:  Hedgehogs and foxes.   Foxes pursue many things, create complexity and end up scattered and diffused, never integrating their thinking to one overall concept or unifying vision.

In contrast, hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.

Hedgehog Concept

Enter Jim Collins, who claims the best business leaders create the highest levels of success because they identify their company’s unique Hedgehog Concept.

The Hedgehog Concept is defined as the intersection of three things:

(1) What the company is deeply passionate about.
(2) What the company can be the best in the world at.
(3) What drives the company’s economic engine.

Core Focus

When implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), we describe the Hedgehog Concept when helping business owners discover their “Core Focus” – a filtering and guiding mechanism to help them stay laser-focused on their core business.

Core Focus is defined as a company’s Purpose/Cause/Passion (reason for being) – and its Niche (what they excel at). All of a company’s systems, processes and people should be directed toward supporting its Core Focus.

Unfortunately, business owners have a strong tendency to get bored or overambitious, ending up sabotaging what they’ve created.

Staying committed to the Core Focus helps filter out the “shiny stuff” – distractions like new ideas, solutions, strategies, products or services that take attention off the core business.

One Big Thing

By focusing on one thing – and doing it really well – you’ve got a sure way of avoiding all the distractions that threaten your success.

As Jim Collins says, “Decide what business you’re in and be in that business.”  Find what you’re good at and devote all your time and resources to maximizing it.

Be a hedgehog!

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